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Merciless battle for Europe's future

  • Article by: Przemyslaw Henzel
  • Special to the Star Tribune
  • November 25, 2013 - 4:39 PM

Later this week, the fate of the six countries located in Eastern Europe will be decided in Vilnius.

A summit of the Eastern Partnership program will be held on Thursday and Friday in the capital city of Lithuania. The meeting will aim to bring states of the former Soviet Union closer to the European Union.

Hopes and expectations are significant, but the pursuit of political stability and economic prosperity, once again, can be stopped by Russia, which wants to continue to play an important role in European politics.

Twenty-four years after the fall of the Iron Curtain, Moscow seeks to re-subjugate its neighbors, reaching all the possible means by which it can influence the decisions taken in the capitals of independent states. Everything now depends on the determination and strength of the European Union, which must remain united against the ambitions of the Kremlin. The European community will attempt to remain strong, or face another division, and the heritage of democratic revolution of 1989 would finally give space back to Realpolitik.

Inevitable clash with Putin's Russia

During the summit, Ukraine, Georgia, Moldova, Belarus, Armenia and Azerbaijan will decide whether to begin the path which in few years can result in full membership in the European Union. For this purpose, they need to sign an association agreements with the EU, so that, in return for the start of the reform program, they will gain access to the common EU market. But this is only the beginning, because these countries will be obliged to carry out a number of institutional reforms before they become full members of the European community.

Russian president Vladimir Putin doesn't accept this pro-European course of Eastern European countries, and is trying to force them to join the Customs Union, which Russia formed with Belarus and Kazakhstan. Russians in recent weeks also introduced economic sanctions against the Ukraine and Moldova, showing that they intend to fight to retain its sphere of influence in this part of the continent.

Such policy is facilitated by the fact that the countries of Eastern Europe are dependent on energy supplies from Russia. In addition, a large amount of gas from Russia is being bought by Western countries such as Germany or France. Moscow in the past few years benefited from "a gas weapon" to achieve political objectives, and the European Union only recently recognized the energy independence as one of its political priorities.

Dangerous scenario for Poland and Eastern Europe

The Eastern Partnership is crucial for Poland, which for historical reasons works to bring closer its eastern neighbors to the EU. There are also important economic and political aspects aimed at breaking the Ukraine, Georgia, Moldova , Belarus, Armenia and Azerbaijan off the Russian sphere of influence.

If the meeting in Vilnius would end without the signing of agreements with the European Union, it would be a blow to the foreign policy of Poland, which tries to maintain its role of a bridge between East and West. It's not only about prestige, it's all about security and stability.

Recent events in Ukraine have shown that dangerous scenario is possible. The authorities in Kiev decided to suspend preparations to sign the agreements with Brussels. As it turned out, a few days ago Russia threatened the destruction of the Ukraine economy through the introduction of further economic sanctions.

It's apparent that Belarus under the pro-Russian Alexander Lukashenko regime will not take any step toward the European community. The aggressive policy of Russia is a threat not only to Poland but also for the Baltic States, which in the past few years suffered serious economic losses as a result of imposing sanctions by Moscow.

Risky chance-taking on the Europe's border

The United States strongly supports the process of enlargement of the European Union, seeing it as a chance to stabilize the area, which was created after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

At the same time, there is a discussion about possible future NATO enlargement, which remains the only real guarantee of independence for the countries of Central and Eastern Europe. Washington and Brussels play a difficult game with Russia, which does not intend to give up its influence in former Soviet Empire countries.

European Union official Catherine Ashton and U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki stated recently that the doors to Europe remain open, but nobody knows in practice how long the European Union would uphold its will to continue the process of enlargement to the east.

Europe is looking forward to see the results of the Eastern Partnership Summit in Vilnius, but in both Brussels and Moscow everyone can observe more and more anxiety with every passing day.

The risk is great but some countries believe that Europe's future is worth of taking such risk. This battle for Europe's future begins Thursday.

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